by Jason Grunspan
One of the problems with confronting homelessness is that when those of us who are not homeless and never have been, consider the issue, we think of it as something that couldn't be more distant from ourselves. We see a ragged-looking person sleeping under a tree by a parking lot, think how awful it is, and then shut it out of our mind until the next time we are unavoidably faced with this uncomfortable situation. When you perceive something as being distant, it's much more difficult to be affected by it.
I was talking to my friend T.R. McCoy recently. As it turns out, we attended the same university--though he some years before me. We discussed our common proclivity for literature and philosophy. It happens that we are both the oldest child in families that were raised in good neighborhoods with middle class values. T.R. comes from a big family, and all his siblings have settled down with careers and families.
His sister works for a phone company, one brother runs a homeless shelter, another is a janitor and army veteran, his youngest brother is a big time drug dealer. When his dad died, T.R. had to drop out of college to help his mother run the household and help raise his youngest brother.
Eventually, he got a job driving a cab--which he held for almost twenty years. It was a good job; a job that T.R. enjoyed. It was a good way to meet people and he was able to use his public relation skills. The only down sides to the job were the long hours and occasional hold ups. He was robbed at gun point on a few occasions and once, while trying to defend himself from a thug in the back seat who had taken twenty nine dollars off him, was stabbed through the hand. These incidents, although few and far between, were frightening, but T. R. did not let them scare him off.
So, why is T.R. McCoy homeless? When he lost his cab job due to an accident in which he was falsely accused, he could not get another steady job. He attributes this to the fact that he is now middle aged, with bad feet and legs, and there has been no decent job training available. If you're not suited for heavy industrial labor and you haven't gotten any adequate job training, where does that leave you?
It left T.R. McCoy in a cleverly situated, hand-crafted tent he put together with scraps. He had always enjoyed the outdoors, but for the past four or five years his endurance has been tested. He could take a job at McDonalds, but what's the point in making $4.25 an hour with no benefits or health care--standing on bad legs and feet all day. It happens that T.R. knows a lot of people in the area--so he can often get a ride from a fellow cab driver, stay with a relative or friend when he needs to, but not wanting to become a burden, he continues to move on: working jobs when he can get them, like a nomadic factotum.
I have worked heavy industrial and factory jobs. Though I am young and in decent physical condition, I usually don't last more than a few months on these jobs. If I were twenty years older with bad legs, it wouldn't even be an option. Luckily, I'll soon have a college degree and even if I become unemployed for an extended period of time I have my family to fall back on. I've had economic and social opportunities thrown at my doorstep my whole life. At times they seem to thrust themselves upon me though I was doing everything I could to shun what ever fortune might be headed my way. Is this what it comes down to? Chance, or whoever's been blessed with more opportunities? I know life is not fair, but I have to wonder what I'd be doing and where I'd be living if a few things had not gone my way. Perhaps in a tent.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12